by Audrey Germany

I snap the pen shut and leave it in my seat. I’m in an assembly of bored parents, excited parents, impatient parents, and it’s just like how I remembered. Today is the amalgamation of the most forgettable and the most memorable part of my elementary school life; first ever school-wide presentation. I remember the nerves, I remember some faces, but I can’t recall any of the information I actually presented that fateful day. I whisper to my mom about refilling my thermos, and she nods at the pamphlet in her lap that reads HOPKIN ELEMENTARY SPACE EXHIBITION: 6 PM! As I leave the cafeteria, the squeak of my sneakers is unbearable, and I guess that’s because everything’s more intense in a dark room. Good thing I sat near the front stage lights. I get to the hallway, and there’s my little brother, Noah; his presentation is soon. Noah walks up to me.

“I peed in the bathroom earlier today,” my brother whispers.

“Well, that’s good. I hope you weren’t planning to pee somewhere else.”

“I mean I peed my pants. Can you tell them I’m throwing up?”

“I don’t think so. Did you change your pants?”

“Yeah. the nurse has lots of pants in her office. It’s creepyyy.”

“It’s probably cuz you fourth graders can’t stop peeing your pants.”

“Nuh uh. I haven’t had an accident in months!”

“Oh yeah? I’ll bet the janitor has to clean up more pee than an ER nurse.”

“Oh. I remember the ER.” I remembered the ER too.

(Noah in his Sweater zips around a waiting room pretending to be a rocketship . He is constantly swerving to an empty plastic cushion between Mom and a woman who chews her lips at every fourth tick of the clock. The cushion pushes Noah up a little ways but not enough. At last, with one mighty jump, he leaps and breaches a sagging ceiling tile. As the tile flops on the floor like a desperate fish, Mom glances up from her magazine to declare three months of no-dessert.)

“Yeah, I’m sure you do,” I say. I check my watch. “Shouldn’t you be going?

” “I feel sick. And the show doesn’t start for a while.”

“You have five minutes. Where’s your project?”

“They have it already, I’m going first.”

“Hey, that’s great.”

“No. First is the worst.”

“Nuh uh. You’ll get it over with first.”

“No I’m not because I’m going home.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Can you pleaase just tell mom to take me home?”

“No! It wouldn’t work anyway.”

“Yes it would! She believes everything you say.”

(Noah in his Rain Boots bursts through the storm door. I had just swiped Noah’s magnifying glass that was going to help him catch a rat (which he swore had been making regular trips to the pantry). Noah forgets to take off his outside clothes, and Mom catches him by the collar and yells something about mud on my floor? I don’t think so Mister. Now where’s that other mess-maker? Mom is about to make her next catch when I pacify, No Mom I was in the whole time; see how my clothes aren’t wet? Mud on your floor? Of course he’d do that.)

I frown. “Yeah yeah. You’re just trying to get out of this.”

“Well, duh. I don’t wanna go up there and perform. I’m scared.”

“You have to!”

“No I don’t!”

“It’s not that bad. When you’re up there, pretend everyone is naked.”

“Ewww, naked people? That’s just gonna scare me more.”

“Well, what makes you so scared?”

“We did a practice round and they turned off the lights and Mrs. Lidske said that the room will be dark so I won’t have to look at anybody’s face. But I couldn’t see anything. I think the cafeteria is the darkest room in the world. I couldn’t tell what was out there.”

“That makes it even easier: pretend like no one’s watching at all.”

“But I know they are!”

“Yeah, like how you knew you’d never be able to see again?”

“Shut up!”

(Noah in his PJs curls up in bed, and he falls asleep before his pillow turns warm. Hours later, he hears a low gurgle like a hungry faucet. Noah hides with his eyes shut and feels a prickle on his calf. Phantom itch. Then, his leg involuntarily jerks. Rush of blood. He tries to see, but his eyelids are crusted shut. Eye Boogers!! He scrapes, rubs, scratches but it won’t bust. Noah’s squealing wakes mom, who begins with Jesus christ what is it then heads to the medicine cabinet after Noah proclaims this is it! I’ll never see again!! The eye crud’s making me blind! I’m going blind! Then, drip drop, there was mom’s angry face.)

“All I’m saying is you’re paranoid.”

“Yeah well, you’re para-nipple.”

“Oh, nice. Where’d you get that, Urban Dictionary?”

“No. I’m funny enough on my own. Unlike you.”

“Where’d that come from?”

“I’m just sick of you.”

“I haven’t done anything today except try to help!”

“You’ve only made me remember how stupid I am!”

“You’re not stupid!”

“I’ve never done anything right and I can’t do anything and I’m so so stupid!”

“If you’re so stupid, how did you learn to write at 3?”

(Noah with a Crayon dutifully traces outlines in a Sesame Street Coloring book. Years later, Noah is the only one that can write the whole alphabet in his class.)

“If you’re so stupid, why do people like you?”

(Noah gives a handful of Berries to Valentine who forgot her lunch. Noah with a Ladybug on his finger lets it crawl onto Valentine’s palm. Noah’s Frisbee accidentally whacks Valentine in the head.)

“If you’re so stupid, how come you did that entire project so well that the principal chose you to present first?”

(Noah presents his 1st -place Ribbon to Mom once he’s in the house, who goes congrats to her newspaper.)

“If you’re so stupid, why does mom love you?”

My brother looked at the ground for a while.

“I don’t know.”

“What, you don’t think mom loves you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course she does because you’re smart! You’re very, very smart.” Noah won’t look me in the eye. “I know she can be harsh, but she always wants you to improve, right? She did the same for me, and I’m thankful.” I hesitate. “You have to know she does it all out of love.”

Noah sniffs. “Just sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.”

“I’m sure it’s just the nerves. And hey, you get to talk about something you love for six minutes straight.”

Noah giggles. “That’s true.

“You ready to go?”


At 6 p.m., Noah presents on Mars. It isn’t particularly engaging; he dribbles through his words and glares at his shoes, but the content is perfect. As he delves into future human space expeditions, I feel my chest swell. Then mom leans over and whispers, “Well this is boring. I did tell him Neptune was a far better subject.” When I meet her face, her smirk says I-know-you-feel-the-same. I guess I don’t make a face that agrees because her smirk disappears. I look back at Noah who’s finally opened up, now proclaiming Mars as the best planet in our solar system to the audience, and I feel my chest fall.